New England Marijuana Legalization Bills Coming

In the wake of this month’s marijuana legalization victories in Colorado and Washington, legislators in New England are ramping up efforts to be the next state to legalize. Solons in Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont have all signaled they will be filing legalization bills next year.

Last week, Washington and Colorado replaced their states’ prohibitions on marijuana with a system of regulation and taxation, said Robert Capecchi, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, which organized a press conference with legislators last week.

Both measures passed with roughly 55% voting in favor, Capecchi noted. Gallup found 50% support for making marijuana legal last year, and that support has risen over the years. We are passing the tipping point when it comes to this issue. Unfortunately, lawmakers have traditionally been behind public opinion when it comes to marijuana policy reform. With these thoughtful legislators in at least four states planning on introducing sensible proposals to remove criminal penalties and regulate marijuana in their states, it’s clear that ending marijuana prohibition is gaining momentum.

At the press conference, Rhode Island state Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), who introduced legalization bills in 2010 and 2011, said she would do so again. Our prohibition has failed, she said. “I think legalizing and taxing it, just as we did to alcohol, is the way to do it.”

Maine state Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) said she, too, will reintroduce a marijuana legalization bill, LD 1453, in her state. “The people are far ahead of the politicians on this,” Russell said. “Just in the past few weeks we’ve seen the culture shift dramatically.”

Legislators in Vermont and Massachusetts have also signaled they will be filing marijuana legalization bills next year. The legislative process is frustratingly slow, often taking several years to get a measure through, but in the wake of the Colorado and Washington votes, we could see a sudden collapse in support for pot prohibition, even at the state house.

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